We are a culture that greatly prizes achievement. We applaud success and winning, but not always effort. I was thinking about this while I was working out this morning. I happen to be a Tae Bo devotee, partly because Billy Blanks is so encouraging in the workout DVDs that I have. He talks a lot about giving yourself the opportunity to try to see whether you can do it.
This started me thinking about how exercise is really of great benefit only when it is a challenge—when it is something that requires effort in order to complete. The same thing is true of our brains. Just before Thanksgiving I read an article about keeping your brain fit. The article made the point that while we might think that doing crossword puzzles is enough to keep our brain active, what our brains really need is challenge. We have to be putting forth effort in order to increase our brain power. If a task can be done with total ease, then it is not really increasing our ability to do anything.
That realization got me thinking about the resolutions that so many make, as well as the examination process that inevitably begins as we approach the spring Holy Day season. As Passover approaches, it is so easy to see all the times that I have missed the mark. There are so many things I wanted to do better, and so many promises I tried so hard to keep, but all that I can see are all the slips, stumbles, and near-misses. It can be so frustrating to contemplate the issues that I continue to battle, and to realize that the struggles I face in Christian life have not fundamentally changed much since I began my walk in earnest. Oh, I make progress, but the same personality issues are always there, the same scary situations continue, and the same attitudes creep back in when least expected.
When I thought about these things together, I remembered the apostle Paul and what he wrote in Philippians 3:12-14. "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus."
Those were words I needed today. It is important to remember that there is much to be learned from the striving. It is not all loss that we have not yet attained or been perfected. We learn and grow from the attempt. And God, ever patient, keeps on waiting for us as we slip and fall—as long as we get up again, repent, and keep trying. We should, of course, put our effort into attempting to overcome once and for all! After all, Paul also wrote, "Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it" (1 Corinthians 9:24).
If I were to boil it down to one idea, it would be this: go for your personal best. We are all strong in some areas and weak in others. It is so tempting to look at our weaknesses and either soothe our ego by recalling the weaknesses of others, or exaggerate them by contrasting them with the strengths of others. What God wants, however, is our personal best. He gives us gifts and waits to see how we will use them. He is not comparing us to others: He is looking to see whether we put our best effort into putting those gifts to good use. It is pointless for us to compare ourselves to one another. Paul wrote, "...let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:1-2). We must look to Him and not to each other.
We run for no ordinary prize. We compete—not with each other—but with ourselves and "...against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12). To win this race, we are going to have to look to Jesus Christ and follow His example with all of our might. As we struggle, as we strive, and as we fall and get up, we learn and grow and become stronger. As we do these things, we look forward to the day when that struggle will truly be over and we will have conquered all those things that cause us so much trouble now.
Let us not grow discouraged because we have not yet attained the goal. Let us, instead, put forth our personal best and reap the reward that challenges bring as we work to overcome.
For more information on making the necessary changes in your life, please download or request our study aid, “Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.